The Rod of Ruin

Book Two: The Tower of Vecna (pt 1)

Grumble

As Paldemar runs at you, your brace yourself to keep him from getting into the tower. With a whispered word he magically enhances his strength, and you are surprised as he barrels into you, shoving you through the door as he goes.

You are surprised anew when you find yourself in a formless space. You perceive it as akin to being lost in a fog bank. You see no floor, no walls, no sky, just an effusive light that seems to extend endlessly in every direction. You see the door, your compatriots still fighting beyond it, close behind you, and then slowly disappear into the mist as you continue to be barrelled away from it.

His burst of magical strength beginning to fade, you begin to gain the upper hand in the struggle with Paldemar. He is badly bloodied, and you think you can easily overpower him in melee. However just as you begin to force him to his knees, he cries out:

“Vecna! There is an intruder in the tower, restrain him with haste, I beg!”

Wisps of fog turn into tendrils that wrap themselves around your arms and neck, and Paldemar slips from your grasp, falling to his knees. He takes a few minutes to catch his breath. When able to, he whispers a few words of magical healing, and you see his wounds begin to knit, while your own vitality seems to flag.

You strain against the misty tentacles, but are held fast. As you struggle, you become aware of a short, balding man, with a pencil-thin moustache, standing to one side of you both. He is wearing an immaculate suit. He speaks:

“The intruder is restrained, Ordinator.” He considers you a moment. “It bears the face of the demon God Baphomet. Do you wish it to be cast into the lower levels?”

Paldemar shakes his head through hard breaths. He is clearly quite shaken- years of his work and planning has been torn down in a moment.

“No… no, not as yet. I wish to speak with it first.”

“If you have no further need of Vecna, I shall adjourn.”

“Thank… thank you, Vecna.”

The man bows curtly, then withdraws into the mist.

Paldemar makes his way gingerly to his feet. He glances up at you and barks a short laugh.

“Ironic, it seems, that you bear the face of the God I have chosen to betray. But I know of you, war engine. I know what you bear within, the soul that is not your own. And now you wear the face of Baphomet, and I cannot help but feel that he stares at me through those eyes.”

He considers for a moment.

“I can remove the mask- I have done it before. Speak, if you wish it.”

You feel an intense surge of desire to not remove the mask, but it feels as if it comes from some other place, not your own will. As Paldemar says it, you do feel something else with you, looking out through the mask.

Grumble looks around to list his options “… at what price, Wizard?”

Paldemar looks momentarily frustrated, and begins to pace.

“You ask questions about price as though you have a choice in the matter! The Face of Baphomet cannot be denied! It is only a matter of time before you become an avatar of the Demon Lord of Minotaurs in this realm! Oh, I had a plan in place to overthrow and supplant him, but you put paid to that, didn’t you? The seven realms will pay the consequences of that, but you won’t care, because by then you’ll have become one with his will!”

He stops pacing and comes up to your mask, shouting:

“I know you’re listening, Prince of Beasts! I feel your presence! You cannot deny me!”

He takes a few moments to calm himself down.

“The price if you keep it on is your very soul, and perhaps the other soul you carry within you- it is hard to say whether that will remain after you turn. The price for removal is… the price…is… you… " He whispers to himself, deep in thought. “…cannot deny me?”

His head snaps up as if he has come to a sudden realization.

“Yes, surely it couldn’t… but… perhaps there is a chance. You’ve given me an idea, construct, and it might just help you, too. You see, the mask isn’t a simple one-way street. Just as you feel the presence of Baphomet, so he too can surely feel yours, although to him it would be the mere footsteps of a fly… but a fly could still kill, if the circumstances were right. I am brimming with magical energy, drained from my fellow mages. With such strength, I hoped to ascend to Godhood and face and defeat Baphomet in his own realm, on his own footing. But perhaps… perhaps that same energy could be channelled into the conduit between you and Baphomet, forming a bridge through which to challenge him? In the name of… how could I be so foolish to not have thought of this before? I was so focused on summoning the energy to storm the castle gates I neglected to consider the sewers!”

Although Paldemar has done nothing to indicate he has control of the wisps that bind you, they do seem to have loosened somewhat as time has passed. You think perhaps you might escape, if you can summon your strength enough to break free. All the while, you hear the “no, no, no…” of the mask over and over in the back of your mind.

Paldemar laughs at the audacity of his own plan.

“What say you, machine? Do you wish to be but a pawn of the Gods… or do you wish to SLAY a God?!”

Grumble says: “While as a moniker ‘God slayer’ does have a certain charm all I hear are vague allusions. Speak it straight, Wizard – What’s your plan?”

He laughs a little to himself. “Well it’s not so much a plan as an idea… come with me.” He called out to the air: “Vecna! Take us to my laboratory.”

The mist dissolves around you both (the whispy tendrils that held you going with it) and you find yourself in what you take to be one of the levels of the tower, given the dimensions of the curved walls around you. The walls seem to have a glassy, semi-translucent quality, although you cannot tell what lies beyond them, they just seem to be a little bit ‘not there’. The room itself seems to be some kind of magical workshop. There are shelves covered with potions, tools, and what seem to be random items (skulls, orbs, feathers suspended in air, etc). The primary feature in the lab appears to be the head of a Bronze Warder (the golden minotaurs who guard the city), which is suspended between a number of metal circles and semi-circles, all carved with magical symbols and arcane writing*.

Paldemar whips off the mask of the Ordinator Arcanis. He seems to be a human male in his late 30s, although his face is creased with worry. He sees you looking at the Warder head and explains: “I’ve been trying to reverse the connection between the control rods and the Bronze Warders. If I can re-engineer the control that the rods have over the Warders, I could theoretically control all of them- re-taking the city and the Mage’s tower would be easy. However now that the old man has escaped, he could be setting up additional security measures. If only you hadn’t…” he cuts himself off. “…there is no time for recriminations. I always knew what I had to do would be hard. But perhaps, if this works, it will not all have been for nought.”

He gestures at the device the Warder head is suspended in, and walks circles around it while he speaks.

“I created this device to channel small amounts of mystic energy backwards through the connection between the warders and the control rods. With some changes, perhaps the same magiks could be used to send great amounts of energy through the connection between the mask you wear and the realm of Baphomet. While I was unable to complete the ritual that would ascend me to Godhood, I still contain, within me, the magical energy of most of the Mages of Saruun. The energy will not last. The time to strike is now. If you will allow it, I would like to use your mask to bridge the world betwixt the plane of our material reality and the Endless Maze, the 600th layer of the Abyss, where Baphomet resides- and face him in his own world.”

He stops in front of you, and looks at you with sadness.

“I won’t lie to you. There are several ways it could go wrong. The strength of the magical energy might kill you. Even if it works perfectly, we could both be killed in a hell dimension, or worse, kept alive forever in a hell dimension. But failure to kill Baphomet before his grand plan unveils will condemn countless others- possibly this entire world, to a similar fate. It is natural to shirk from danger. Even the great Mages of Saruun did the same.” He grabs you by the shoulder with one hand. “But it is contingent on us to stop him. Now is the time, this is the place. You are here for a reason. The forge has been lit, the metal heated and placed on the anvil. And you are the hammer. Can you truly refuse to strike?”

He lets your shoulder go.

“I cannot force you. And… I can remove the mask through other means. But I will ask you, beg you: My spies say that some in the city think you and your friends are heroes. Others think you villains. Prove yourself a hero. Save the world.”

“I didn’t save the city – save it from you – out of love of its people. We came here as rescuers of those brought against their will. But we have made friends here. I would not watch idle as some entity destroy it after all our work to set it right. This Baphomet guy sounds like a bad egg. And I don’t want the world destroyed – all my stuff is there.

Why can’t we enlist the help of other gods – maybe anti-Baphomet ones? I’m not suggesting prayer. I’m more of a direct-action being as are most Warforged… probably. But ants don’t often meddle in the plans of Kings if you take my meaning."

Paldemar says he became aware of the machinations of Baphomet, in part, because of the actions of Orcus, through his Priest, Kalarel (with whom you already know Paldemar has had some dealings), who initally alerted him (Paldemar) to Baphomet’s plans, which have in large part been carried out (and are still being carried out) by his mortal servants here on this plane. When Paldemar took his case to stop Baphomet to the Mages of Saruun, they dismissed him as paranoid, forcing him to take stronger measures and to take the power of the Mages into himself in the hopes of ascending to Godhood.

As for other Gods, he shrugs, unaware of how one might begin to appeal to Gods. He supposes there are other Gods within the Abyss to whom they might make a direct supplication, once they arrive there, hoping they might interfere, but it would be risky, for the alliances and enmities of the Gods are fickle and everchanging.

Grumble looks down at Paldemar with firey eyes.

“I cannot speak for my comrades. But I will help you.”

Paldemar breaks into a smile of relief and reaches out to shake your hand and seal the bargain. He bids you to rest and recuperate while he prepares the ritual required to overhaul the device with the Warder’s head in it. He doesn’t know how long it will take but will work as quickly as he can, as time is short.

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